For months, Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen remained elusive when pressed on whether he would support presidential nominee Donald Trump.
On Saturday, in the aftermath of a 2005 video surfacing of Trump making lewd remarks about groping women, he let rip.
Paulsen called the comments “disgusting and offensive,” ultimately concluding, “I will not be voting for him.”
The denunciation was one among many that erupted in Minnesota GOP circles and was repeated by Republicans across the country, all of them hoping to minimize the damage rippling outward from their lightning-rod nominee. In the video, a microphone recorded Trump bragging in vulgar terms that his fame gave him a free pass to kiss, grope and attempt to have sex with women.
Paulsen, a four-term congressman, is in one of the tightest races in the country, one that has the attention of Democrats nationwide. Paulsen’s rival, Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff, immediately denounced Trump’s remarks. She has worked for months to tie Paulsen to Trump, saying his previous refusal to take a stand is the same as supporting Trump.
Voters in Paulsen’s district, which includes Minneapolis’ western suburbs, are some of the wealthiest and most educated in the country, voting groups that polls show are also the least likely to support Trump.
Bonoff lambasted Paulsen for not standing up to Trump sooner.
“I think it’s too late for any politician to denounce,” she said in an interview Saturday. “The public should denounce those leaders who have not stood up to Donald Trump.”
Paulsen’s public decision not to support Trump highlighted a widening divide within the Minnesota GOP, where other members condemned Trump’s remarks but stopped short of saying they would withhold their votes from him.
GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, Trump’s biggest backer in Minnesota’s congressional delegation, called the candidate’s statements “indefensible.”
But Emmer, who is not in a significantly competitive race in his GOP stronghold, said he was glad to see Trump apologize and hoped for “renewed focus on the many important issues that will impact the lives of Minnesotans and all Americans in the coming years and decades.”
Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty added his voice to the growing ranks of Republican governors who have said they could no longer support Trump.
“He is unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States, and I am withdrawing my support for him,” said Pawlenty, who briefly ran for president four years ago.
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, called for Trump to step aside.
Daudt, the state’s highest ranking elected Republican, is fighting to hold and build upon a slim majority in the Minnesota House. Several key battleground legislative districts are in suburban communities where Trump’s appeal has lagged.
Stewart Mills, a GOP candidate in the Eighth Congressional District, called Trump’s comments “crude and vulgar,” but did not call for him to step aside. Many people on the Iron Range, even some DFLers, are drawn to Trump and his strong opposition to trade deals they blame for hurting the local steel industry.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey issued his most forceful critique of Trump yet, but stopped short of abandoning him.
“These lewd and demeaning comments and the behavior they describe contradict the very core of the values of the Republican Party,” Downey said in a statement.
Asked if Trump’s remarks about women disqualify him, Downey twice referred to the statement and declined to elaborate.
Staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report.